Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Choros #10 at The Last Night of the Proms

A really impressive performance of Choros #10, with a huge array of resources masterfully managed by Conductor David Robertson. The BBC's busy cameras help to put you right into the orchestra. Part 2 of the work is here - the singing of the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus is exceptional.

Egberto Gismonti's Saudações

Egberto Gismonti's new album Saudações has been released by ECM in Europe, and will be available in North America later this month.  It's a double album, with the orchestral suite Sertões Veredas - Tributo à Miscigenação on one disc, and a duo-guitar recital with his son Alexandre on the other.

I've only heard clips from the suite, but this article by João Marcos Coelho finds very strong influences of Villa-Lobos and Bach in this music for strings (played on the disc by the Havana-based Camerata Romeu, directed by Zenaida Romeu).  The other strong influence seems to be the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, who was a close friend of Villa-Lobos and someone with a great understanding of music.

According to Coelho, "A primeira audição de Sertões Veredas provoca a estranha sensação de estarmos diante de uma obra do Villa-Lobos inédita e recém-descoberta." - he has the strange sensation of hearing a a newly-discovered unknown score of Villa-Lobos.

I look forward to hearing the entire album, listening for the influences of Villa and Bach.  More importantly, though, it will be great to hear the first orchestral music from a composer for whom I have the greatest respect.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Quinteto Villa-Lobos Turnê Africana

The Villa-Lobos Concert Locations database includes a long list of cities where about 15 years' worth of Villa-Lobos concerts have taken place. Five new locations have just been added, thanks to the new tour of Africa by the Quinteto Villa-Lobos:

  • Tunisia: Cartago
  • Botswana: Gabarone
  • Namibia: Windhoek
  • Mozambique: Maputo
  • Kenya: Nairobi
You can follow the tour on the QVL blog.

First reports from "A Menina das Nuvens"

[Foto: divulgação Palácio das Artes / Paulo Lacerda]

The first review of the important production of the opera A Menina das Nuvens - The Girl in the Clouds - has appeared. Irineu Franco Perpetuo writes in the Concerto website that while the opera "may not be the best Villa-Lobos, [...] it is worth knowing."

Perpetuo describes some of the challenges that came with this project, including the dangerous, 7-metre fall of baritone Licio Bruno, which necessitated some cast changes. Apparently Bruno is recovering well from this scary incident.

Perpetuo complains of excessive length and some banal writing by Villa-Lobos in the first two acts. But all comes together in the third, "...where the lush orchestration and neo-romantic Villa-Lobos of the 1950 meets the melodic serenade of the 1930s and some rhythmic and harmonic daring of the 1920s."

Let's hope that this production is a sign that Villa's stage works might be in for more productions, and recordings, in the future.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More about the Instruments of Amazonas

A year ago I wrote about the interesting instruments included in the score of Villa's great early masterpiece Amazonas. Since then I've come across conductor Roberto Duarte's interesting book Revisão das Obras Orquestrais de Villa-Lobos, v.2., which is a detailed description of the scores of important orchestral works.

Duarte's book includes some interesting pictures of two instruments that he actually used in his landmark recording of Amazonas for Marco Polo in 1990. Here is the Violinophone:

and the Viola d'amore:

It's great that this important disc is once again in print. I'm listening to Amazonas right now at the Naxos Music Library: what an amazing work!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Latin Grammy nod for Sonia Rubinsky

The Latin Grammy nominations were announced in Los Angeles this morning. Congratulations to Sonia Rubinsky and the great people at Naxos for a well-deserved nomination. There are two classical categories:
  • Best Album, which includes Rubinsky's disc; and
  • Best Classical Contemporary Composition, which this year includes Orlando Jacinto Garcia, Clarice Assad, Gabriela Lena Frank, Roberto Sierra, and Alfonso Fuentes
Rubinsky's disc, the 8th and final one in her monumental series of Villa-Lobos's Piano Music, is worthy of an award not only for the series, but on its own. It includes some very important but under-played works. Rubinsky's recordings have helped to bring this music to a much wider audience; and hopefully to a new generation of pianists. She has helped to raise Villa's reputation as a composer, in the same way that people like Carl St. Clair, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Roberto Minczuk, and John Neschling have done in the past ten years.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jet Whistle from the 1960s

This performance of Assobio a Jato by Julius Baker & David Soyer is impressive, in spite of some audio distortion. This is the first movement:

and the second & third movments are here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Villa-Lobos at the Last Night of the Proms

I felt privileged to be able to watch The Last Night of the Proms from the Royal Albert Hall, live via satellite here in Red Deer this weekend. It was a very enjoyable, if slightly exhausting, concert, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Singers & Symphony Chorus, and two amazing soloists (trumpeter Alison Balsom and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly), all under the direction of David Robertson.

The highlight for me, of course, was Choros #10, which came across in spectacular fashion in the HD presentation, with BBC television's many roving cameras and excellent sound. David Robertson really got under the skin of this piece, which sounds difficult enough to hold together in a regular concert, much less the barely controlled chaos of The Last Night, with its hoovers & shotguns; a raucus crowd with flags, noisemakers, and sparklers; a huge programme of various styles of music; and a daunting technological challenge coordinating the music in the RAH and five Proms in the Park from around the UK.

That's one of the reasons Villa-Lobos fit so well into this concert: his music is barely controlled chaos itself. Choros #10 is a Proms-like concoction of ultra-sophisticated art music, near-silliness, and a well-loved nation-building tune (Rasga o Coração, "Rend my Heart"). Any Rio de Janeiro audience from the 1920s until today could sing this tune in the same way today's Prommers sing "Jerusalem" or "Rule Britannia".

You can hear the tune in this YouTube version of the second part of Choros #10, an excellent version by the Sinfónica de la Juventud Venezolana Simón Bolivar, conducted by Isaac Karabtchevsky:

And here is Anacleto de Medeiros' Schottische "Yara", aka Rasga o Coração, in a performance by pianist José Miguel Wisnik

If you didn't get a chance to watch or hear The Last Night concert, you have 7 days to listen on the web using BBC's iPlayer. You also have 7 days to read the excellent Programme Notes by Robert Maycock.

It was interesting seeing instant feedback on the concert via Twitter posts. Here's a selection (do a Twitter search on #lastnightoftheproms for more):
@sciencesub Oh good they are playing a piece by Hetoir Villa Lobos Now that I like!
@bexxi This Villa-Lobos piece is EXTREMELY cool: like a cross between Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives.. #proms #radio3
@RoeDent #proms the villa-lobos sounds like 'little train' with added passengers!
@Braziel This Villa-Lobos on the Proms is fantastic. Makes me want to join a choir! Must be great fun to sing. #proms
@dotterel - the Villa Lobos was what we classical music lovers describe as 'absolutely bloody brilliant'. N'est pas? #lastnightproms
@SirCasey Villa Lobos answer to Beethoven's 9th symphony!
@goldsbrough Loved the Villa Lobos piece at the LNOTP. Must get a recording of it. #proms
@wongawoman1 villa lobos a definite highlight tonight at albert hall
It all comes to a climax with this post:
@propagation0 Villa-Lobos is GOD
The BBC isn't resting on its laurels when it comes to Villa-Lobos. This morning (September 14th) they begin a five-programme series on Villa-Lobos in Composer of the Week - I'm listening to the first one as I type this. Donald Macleod provides excellent commentary, along with a very well-chosen list of works from CD.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Video About the Newly Discovered Villa-Lobos Scores

The now-famous Villa-Lobos arrangements of four songs by Guy Ropartz are featured in this new video. It's so cool to see the media give this story so much attention!

Pianos em Jubileu

Ricardo Rocha's Orquestra Bachiana Brasileira will be presenting three serious piano concertos in one concert next weekend in Sao Paulo, by Claudio Santoro, Felix Mendelssohn (#1), and Heitor Villa-Lobos (Bachianas Brasileiras #3, one of his best concertos). More information here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Complete Symphonies on cpo

Why bother building your Villa-Lobos CD library one disc at a time? In the past few months BIS and Dorian have released the complete Choros, Bachianas Brasileiras, and String Quartets in inexpensive box sets. Now comes this new Complete Symphonies set on 7 CDs.

This is the final piece in the awesome project begun by conductor Carl St. Clair in 1997. Most of the symphonies, and many of the smaller orchestral works, were either world premieres on record, or were the first recordings outside of obscure Brasilian LPs. The orchestral playing of the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir received high marks from critics over the years, as did St. Clair's preparation (from sometimes incomplete or corrupted scores and parts) and conducting. The recording and presentation from cpo also was very warmly received. The website is the first place I've seen this posted on the web; the discs are due to be released on September 21, 2009. At €39.99 (about $60), this set is a major bargain!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Villa's Wake

The Velório (wake) for Villa-Lobos: some film footage from nearly 50 years ago.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review: French Flute Chamber Music

Mirage Quintet: French Flute Chamber Music (Naxos 8.570444)

This year is not only the Ano Villa-Lobos in Brazil (the 50th Anniversary of his death), but also the Ano da França no Brasil, the Year of France. Villa-Lobos had a close relationship with France; Paris was his second home in the 1920s and the 1950s. He had many close friends amongst the musicians of France: Edgard Varèse, Olivier Messiaen, Florent Schmitt.

This new CD of French Flute Chamber Music from Naxos contains music from many of the composers Villa hung out with in Paris, and more importantly, the music on this disc participates in a certain style and sound from that time that Villa made his own, in works like the Nonetto, the Choros series, and the great early piano works.

The 1970s pop/rock group E.L.O. (Electric Light Orchestra) was famously formed to "pick up where [The Beatles'] 'I Am the Walrus' left off." Similarly, all the works on this CD come out of the sound world created by a single piece: Maurice Ravel's 1905 Introduction et Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, and String Quartet. This lineup of composers comes from Ravel's generation, except for the youngster Francaix, who is 30-40 years younger than the rest. The pieces were all written in the 1920s or 1930s, all of them for flute, harp, and strings.

Though the music exists in that same sound world, subtle differences in the personalities of the composers emerge. Francaix is playful, Roussel muscular, and Schmitt nostalgic and a bit sentimental. Marcel Tournier's Suite, Op. 34 is a special treat. I knew, and enjoyed, the piece from a Hanssler Classic CD with the Linos Harp Quintet, but the Mirage Quintet give the work a forward momentum and depth that really makes it stand out. You can get a feel for this from the Mirage Quintet's YouTube video of the 3rd Movement (Lied: Assez Lent, Avec Melancolie) filmed during the CD recording in Toronto in 2007.

This recording took place under the watchful eyes and ears of the great team of Bonnie Silver & Norbert Kraft, who between them share producer, engineer, and editor functions. Kraft, by the way, is the very same guitarist who completely nailed the Villa-Lobos guitar music for Naxos in 2000. The sound on the new disc is predictably excellent, though some might argue that Robert Aitken's flute is too forward in the mix. It's hard to see how this music could be played or presented any better.

In 1957 Villa-Lobos wrote his Quintette Instrumental for Flute, violin, viola, cello, and harp, which looks back to the Ravel and Debussy models, and perhaps also to works like the Roussel Serenade and the Quintet by Guy Ropartz. But Villa's distinctive voice comes out very strongly in this late masterpiece. I would move the Villa-Lobos work to the top of the list of the pieces I've discussed in this review (all right, second after the Ravel!) Listen to the Quintette as played by the group mobius (also on Naxos, and available on the Naxos Music Library) and tell me if you agree.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review: Klang der Welt - Brasilien

Here's a CD I took notice of back in July, when it showed up in the Naxos Music Library. Now that I've had a chance to listen more closely to it, I'm posting a fuller review here.

Klang der Welt: Brasilien

Heitor Villa-Lobos looms large in Brazil, and not just in the classical music world. In Brazilian popular music, jazz, and popular culture, and especially in this Ano Villa-Lobos (the 50th anniversary of his death), Villa-Lobos is everywhere. This makes it hard for the composers of Villa's generation, and those who followed him, to get noticed. This disc is a welcome introduction to some names that might not be well known to music lovers. Perhaps the new interest in Villa-Lobos in Brazil and around the world will be the tide that raises all boats.

The one fairly well-known work in this chronologically organized CD is Villa-Lobos's Quinteto em forma de Choros, written in 1928. It's a masterpiece, closely related to the Choros series that many (including myself) believe constitutes Villa's greatest achievement.

Luciano Gallet's Turuna for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, & Percussion is from 1926, and it's a real find. The work reflects Gallet's expertise in Brazilian folklore and popular music. It has the same fresh sound of the urban serenaders known as Choroes that permeates Villa-Lobos's music of the 1920s. The music really swings. But the Turuna shares with the Quinteto and the following work, Camargo Guarnieri's Two Songs for Flute and Voice, a sophisticated, modernist voice that relates to Villa-Lobos's strongest influences: Stravinsky, Debussy, and the many composers Villa met in Paris. You can hear in both the Gallet and Guarnieri, for example, the flute and clarinet sounds of Choros #02 of 1924. These works show that the international modernist style of Paris had found fertile ground in Brazil.

Francisco Mignone, who worked in both the nationalist and modernist styles and even flirted with serialism in the 1950s, wrote the Five Songs for Voice & Bassoon relatively late in a very long and productive career. The songs look back to the 1920s, and earlier, to the salon music of the late nineteenth century. There are few composers who write better for the bassoon - bassoonists should take up these songs in the same way they have adopted the witty Waltzes for Solo Bassoon.

Claudio Santoro's Mini Concerto Grosso is a gorgeous piece. It's a stylized work that looks back on neo-classicism in the same way that neo-classicism looked back on earlier music. It looks back to the new Brazilian style that Villa-Lobos took up in the 1930s. Santoro, like Mignone, had gone through a variety of styles (he shared a teacher, Hans Joachim Koellreutter, with Antonio Carlos Jobim, and also studied with Nadia Boulanger). Ronaldo Miranda's Variations also look back to an earlier period in Brazilian music: to a much-loved song by Anacleto de Medeiros, whose choros and schottisches from the turn of the century had a major influence on Brazilian popular music and art music alike.

Joao Guilherme Ripper was born in the year that Villa-Lobos died, and his star has risen very high in the last few years, with major triumphs in choral music and opera. Matinas, from 1996, is another strong work to close this enjoyable and illuminating programme from the very capable musicians of the Deutschen Oper Berlin.